Wednesday, August 31, 2016

POAH to celebrate 15th anniversary Sept. 28

News from NHC's family of members
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

For 15 years, NHC member Preservation of Affordable Housing (POAH) has stayed true to its mission to preserve, create and sustain affordable, healthy homes that support economic security and access to opportunity for all. On Sept. 28, the organization will recognize all of its hard work and accomplishments in an anniversary celebration in Boston featuring a symposium and reception.

The anniversary celebration will feature a keynote from the Urban Institute’s president and CEO, Sarah Rosen Wartell, on strategies for addressing poverty and income inequality. A town-hall discussion focused on housing and community development in the next presidential administration and Congress will follow Wartell’s remarks and feature NHC’s president and CEO, Chris Estes, as presenter. POAH board member Reese Fayde will moderate the session.

Following the discussions, a reception will take place in the Boston Society of Architects’ Gallery. There is no charge to attend the event, but those interested in helping POAH celebrate its anniversary should RSVP to by Friday, Sept. 16.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

BRIDGE Housing to develop N. Williams Center in Portland

News from NHC's family of members
by Radiah Shabazz, National Housing Conference

The Portland Housing Bureau recently selected NHC member BRIDGE Housing to develop 61 affordable apartments for low-income families at the N. Williams Center in the Eliot neighborhood of Portland, Ore. The community will serve very low- and low-income families and give priority to those who have been displaced in North and Northeast Portland.

Expected to break ground sometime in mid-2017, N. Williams Center will have four stories and feature one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Other site features include a children’s area, gathering spaces for residents, a chicken coop and community gardens. Art and garden programs will be provided to developmentally disabled residents. Additional supportive services will be included to increase the financial stability of all residents.

“While the neighborhood has a rich cultural heritage, many longtime residents have been priced out and displaced,” BRIDGE Housing President and CEO, Cynthia Parker, who has deep roots in the region, said in a press release. “We’re proud to be part of the solution and are committed to bringing quality and affordability to Northeast Portland.”

According to “Housing Landscape 2016”state data, 22 percent of Oregon’s low- and moderate-income working households spend at least half of their income on housing costs and renters are more likely to face severe housing cost burden, with 25 percent spending more than half their income on housing. The N. Williams Center development will help alleviate the strain of finding affordable housing that many displaces families in the region have experienced.

The N. Williams Center development received an allocation of $4.5 million in local and federal funds from Portland’s Housing Bureau and will leverage 40 project-based Section 8 vouchers from Home Forward, Portland’s public housing authority. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

No time for nostalgia: Why both parties must focus on housing and opportunity

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference 

Despite the efforts of many organizations, including at the Republican and Democratic conventions, the shortage of rental housing affordable to lower-income households has not made its way into either of the presidential candidates’ campaign speeches. It seemed during the primaries there was a fair amount of attention on people who are struggling, but only glancing attention paid to housing issues. Last week, the New York Times took both campaigns to task, pointing out their lack of attention to poverty and housing.

It strikes me that when confronting issues of poverty, the default position for campaigns often seems to be to talk about bringing back manufacturing jobs using a model of large-scale production that is not now the norm in the U.S. Today’s American manufacturing is smaller-scale, higher-tech and higher-skilled. Yet somehow this seems to be the only way many candidates address poverty and opportunity. As a field and a movement we must continue to challenge these ideas and educate candidates and policymakers on the central role of housing quality, affordability and location to economic and social success. Imagining that we are somehow going to solve all of our economic and housing issues by bringing back large-scale manufacturing is incredibly irresponsible and unrealistic.

I certainly understand why campaigns, and both parties, resort to this frame. It is much easier to give a simple, nostalgic answer than to more directly confront the problems of poverty, low wages and the systemic barriers that keep people trapped economically. Matt Desmond’s book “Evicted” shines a light on some of these barriers. And as the Washington Post reported recently, these struggles with housing are everywhere, and thus are something the affordable housing community has to be ready to engage in if we are going to get the level of investment and support we need to meet our communities’ housing challenges.

The presidential campaign has featured some attention to these issues. In this CNN op-ed, Democratic vice presidential candidate and senator from Virginia, Tim Kaine, details the Clinton-Kaine plan to address affordable and fair housing. Kaine frames the op-ed around his personal experience as a young fair housing lawyer representing Lorraine, an African-American woman who was denied housing at a similar point in her life as Kaine. Highlights from the policy proposals include expanding LIHTC, increasing rental assistance, funding public housing along with economic development, adding homeownership help and expanding fair housing enforcement. 

While this is encouraging to see, the housing movement should advocate for both parties and both presidential candidates to take leadership on these issues. NHC believes that to be successful, we need both Republicans and Democrats to understand and support the investments and changes needed to improve housing outcomes, and in turn, improve outcomes in economic mobility, health and education.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The potential impact of the small-area fair market rents methodology

by Brian Stromberg, National Housing Conference and Jonathan Zimmerman, Public Housing Authorities Directors Association

HUD recently announced a proposed rule that would use Small-Area Fair Market Rents (SAFMRs) to address high levels of voucher concentration instead of 50th percentile Fair Market Rents (FMRs). This change would also shift the geography from Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) to ZIP codes. Using a finer scale is meant to give voucher-assisted households the means to move into higher opportunity neighborhoods by providing them with enough subsidy to afford rents in such areas. In the process, HUD believes that SAFMRs will reduce the number of voucher-assisted households that reside in areas of high poverty concentration. A preliminary analysis of this change in methodology suggests that it would produce significant variations in funding availability from year to year.

Since 2006, the subsidy funding for voucher programs has been determined by a budget-based renewal formula which uses Public Housing Authorities’ (PHA) Housing Assistance Payment expenditures from the previous year and an adjustment for inflation. This means that even relatively small annual fluctuations in SAFMR calculations (five or 10 percent), may have implications for how the various stakeholders will be able to achieve the goals of the voucher program.
A substantial number of communities served by PHAs stand to be affected by this rule change: HUD estimates that approximately 300 PHAs serving more than 550,000 voucher-assisted households (28 percent) are likely to be affected by its proposed SAFMR rule. Given the potentially wide impact of this rule change, it is important to analyze the ultimate impact of the SAFMR methodology on the affected jurisdictions.

To do this analysis, Jonathan Zimmerman from the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association (PHADA) collected the hypothetical SAFMRs calculated by HUD from 2011 to 2016. Brian Stromberg of NHC then mapped these by ZIP code across 28 of the MSAs that HUD has proposed (excluding the current SAFMR demonstration cities of Dallas, Chicago and New York). These maps show the hypothetical Small-Area FMRs that had annual changes (either increases or decreases) of between five and 10 percent, or greater than 10 percent. The underlying data are for two-bedroom units within the same ZIP code because two-bedroom units are considered the baseline unit size for HUD’s FMR and SAFMR adjustments and calculations.

The data used in our analysis reveal that many of the 1,852 ZIP codes affected by the proposed SAFMR rule would have experienced significant changes in FMR for two-bedroom homes from year to year, had the SAFMR methodology being proposed by HUD been in place since 2011 for the proposed areas. Between 2011 and 2012, 665 ZIP codes would have seen SAFMR changes between five and 10 percent, while 968 ZIP codes would have changed by at least 10 percent. From 2012 to 2013, 858 would have changed between five and 10 percent and 709 would have changed more than 10 percent. The table below shows the full analysis.

5% to less than 10% decrease
More than 10% decrease
5% to less than 10% increase
More than 10% increase
2011 to 2012
2012 to 2013
2013 to 2014
2014 to 2015
2015 to 2016

The analysis presented here is only preliminary and has some limitations to it. A combination of HUD’s SAFMRs along with census tract data would help further identify other possible effects among voucher program constituencies. The purpose of the analysis presented here is to help interested parties get an idea of how annual percentage changes in SAFMR values in the same ZIP code and bedroom size play out over time.

We hope that these data and the maps made from them will inform any comments made on HUD’s proposed rule. While a finer-grain geography would allow for more a targeted implementation of the voucher program, it may also have the unintended consequence of destabilizing the finances of public housing authorities around the country.

HUD’s proposed SAFMR rule is available here. Comments are due Monday, August 15, 2016 and can be submitted on the Federal Register website.

Jonathan Zimmerman joined the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association (PHADA) as a Policy Analyst at the beginning of 2014.  Prior to joining PHADA, Jonathan worked in federally funded rental housing assistance programs for twenty-three years. Jonathan works on legislative, regulatory and administrative matters relating primarily to the Section 8 tenant-based and Section 8 project-based voucher programs.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Education, advocacy and action

by Chris Estes, National Housing Conference 

In case you missed it, last week NHC and the Urban Institute released a new rental housing data visualization, “The Cost of Affordable Housing: Does it Pencil Out?” This tool was developed with real construction data from the Denver metro area and is designed to demonstrate the challenges of financing rental housing affordable to households at below-median income levels. We hope it will be a useful resource in your work to educate elected officials, local and state government staff and the public on why programs like the LIHTC and operating subsidies are needed to bring rents to a level low to moderate income households can afford.

Thanks to the Urban Institute for their partnership on this effort and to Ethan Handelman, Rebekah King and Amy Clark of NHC for their work on the project.

We’ve received great feedback from NHC members, Hill staff and affordable housing allies on this tool. People see it as a way to introduce concepts of affordable housing to legislators, community members, students and anyone else just stepping into this policy issue. We hope you will share with us your thoughts on the data visualization and any experiences and impact you have in your education efforts.

We have also learned of other more detailed tools serving related needs. We hope you find them useful, too:
  • NHC Board Member Carol Galante and the Terner Center at the University of California Berkeley produced a Housing Development Dashboard to calculate factors affecting the likelihood of new housing development, and a Policy Gauge showing how much housing will be built. This is a great way to bring land use and regulatory barriers into the affordability conversation. 
  • Our New York affiliate, the New York Housing Conference, showed us a tool created by the Citizens Housing and Planning Council. Inside the Rent, a web-based game that explores why New York City rents are so high, is a great resource for folks working on housing issues in that region. 
  • NHC member Cornerstone Partnership has an Inclusionary Calculator that allows you to create simple, online pro formas for development to show how features of an inclusionary housing program will impact the number of units produced and at what prices. 
I wrote last week in the Wire about the Make Room campaign’s effort to generate one million contacts with members of Congress on affordable housing issues. NHC is proud to join many other national affordable housing and community development organizations in support of this effort. Yesterday the campaign formally kicked off with a national discussion lead by “Eviction” author Matt Desmond.

If you have not visited the Make Room website, please do so. It is a great resource on the shortage of rental housing affordable to below-median income households, and has a convenient “Take Action” section that allows you to send messages to your members of Congress as an individual or on behalf of an organization. See below from Radiah for more details on how to get involved in the campaign.

As we close the books on this year’s gala, we are pleased to announce that 2017’s Housing Visionary Awards Gala will be held June 8 at the National Building Museum. We hope you will mark your calendar and join us in continuing to make this a must attend event each year.

Is gentrification a conspiracy?

News from NHC
by Amy Clark, National Housing Conference

Last month I joined some of my NHC colleagues in St. Paul for a meeting of our Inclusive Communities Working Group. The topic of the all-day meeting was “Gentrification without Displacement,” and I helped launch the day’s discussion with a presentation of an informal analysis of how gentrification is portrayed in local and national media. What stood out for me in these news stories was both the common frame of gentrification as inevitable, and the pain and helplessness expressed by many residents, particularly Black and Latino residents, as they watched their communities change around them.

An anonymous leaflet I found in my neighborhood one recent morning brought these observations to mind. My husband and I rent in a majority Black, middle-class neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and it doesn’t take a gentrification calculator to tell me that yes, we’re gentrifiers. We also love our neighborhood, have become close with many of our neighbors and wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else in this city. The flyer in question reached too deeply into the politics of D.C. neighborhoods to describe in detail here, but it included some lightly substantiated allegations of wrongdoing against formal and informal neighborhood leaders who happen to have been part of the neighborhood’s first wave of gentrification.   

One of the flyer’s specific arguments regarded the leaders’ advocacy for a new dog park in our neighborhood. Americans at all levels of income own dogs, and one imagines the desire to get a dog out of the house and into a fenced area where it can tire itself out crosses racial and ethnic lines as well. But dog parks, like bike lanes and other urban quality-of-life improvements, are powerful symbols of gentrification. It should not be surprising when long-time residents of gentrifying neighborhoods question the motives of city leaders when dog parks and other neighborhood upgrades seem to follow closely the arrival of new, higher-income neighbors.

This type of observation can easily develop into a belief in a greater conspiracy. According to research on the psychology of conspiracy, conspiracy theories arise when feelings inspired by circumstance—alienation from institutions, low levels of trust, heightened sensitivity to threat, a sense of vulnerability—hyper-activate our brains’ natural processes of pattern-seeking and protective suspicion to turn run-of-the-mill activities like new development or government initiatives into something much more sinister. What’s more, “recognition of historically documented, anti-black conspiracies” among African-Americans makes current anti-Black conspiracy theories more plausible to them than to Whites without the same historical knowledge. So for some, a dog park is just another amenity. For others, a dog park can call to mind the wounds of the past that only deliberate collaboration and trust-building can heal. Toss in rapid redevelopment and out-of-reach housing costs, and you have fertile ground for conspiracies to take root.

I don’t think gentrification is a conspiracy. But I do think it’s vital that local governments, community leaders and developers of all kinds understand the symbolic weight of their plans and actions, in addition to the economic impact. As we seek to create opportunity in struggling communities, we must be aware of what our work—not just our words—communicates.